Monday, December 19, 2005

The last worthless evening.

All this weekend, I was in the mood for a damn good steak. On Sunday night, because I'd just worked a long shift at the bookstore and because I was hungry, I avoided spending time with friends of mine at BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN - which I want to see by myself so that I won't be overcome by other people's reactions to it, which happens to me - and instead headed to the new Longhorn Steakhouse on Piedmont, right near my apartment. I didn't require classy steak, after all. I just wanted a piece of meat prepared medium well by people who understood what "medium well" actually was. I figured the Longhorn would suffice.

I drove to the parking deck outside the MARTA station, which was mostly deserted of people, and walked through the newly-designed, also-empty City Center development, another manufactured community setting with nice buildings and nice sidewalks in the middle of a neighborhood of rundown buildings and littered walkways. The new restaurant, the new benches, the new sidewalks all felt antiseptic and false. I carried my collection of short stories with me to the restaurant.

There is a difference between being alone and being lonely, and I think I sorta knew that before I watched the episode of SEX AND THE CITY where Carrie addressed "embracing her single self" a couple years ago, the one that ended with her eating comfortably at a sidewalk cafe all by herself. I figure I'm actually pretty good at doing things on my own, except cleaning my apartment or washing and folding my laundry.

In 1998, when I was in Augusta and regularly seeing this guy named Greg, I discovered to my dismay that I was seeing Greg just so that I could see "someone," so that I could have that "boyfriend" slot filled and then concentrate my energies on other things. When I figured out that, like Garbo, I just wanted to be alone and learn things about myself from myself, I dropped him, and poor Greg was really upset, saying that just wanting to be alone wasn't a good enough reason to break up with someone. Still, being alone is, at some points, the right thing for me. If I'm keeping someone's company just because I need "someone," then that's not fair to me or to the "someone."

I can go to a movie by myself and usually prefer it that way, which is more than some of my friends can do. I can go to a restaurant, sit down with a book, chat up only a waitress, eat my food and be OK with the whole thing. I can fill time watching DVD box sets of television shows, only eventually realizing that it's past any reasonable bedtime.

I'm a capable person socially. I can hold a conversation pretty well with a stranger or balance an exchange with a friend. I don't think that I'm in danger of becoming a hermit. If I'm alone most of this week because of Christmas, it's not because I'm lonely. There are plenty of people who like me that I can choose to see. If I only spend a couple hours at Mom's house this week, it's because I don't relate to some relatives there and would prefer to be at the movies.

Last night at the restaurant, while sitting alone, a number of gay couples were seated in the tables all around me. Over the speakers, the restaurant played Linda Ronstadt's "It's So Easy (to Fall in Love)." And I chuckled and buttered my loaf of wheat bread. The waitress at the table next to mine answered a guy's question about how to eat carb-free there, telling him that he didn't look fat. His date snickered at him. The music changed to Don Henley's "The Last Worthless Evening." With that, it became harder to read my book, to eat my dinner without making eye contact with people. The song, and I nearly complained about it to the waitress, almost put a damper on me, switching me from alone-and-fine to contemplative-lonely with each punishing verse. I thought, "Maybe I'm not fine with eating alone. Maybe I shouldn't be fine with it. Are people looking at me? What if no one ever looks at me? Maybe I should worry about my carbs. Maybe I'm getting too round. Maybe I shouldn't even be eating this. I should do something with myself. I can't sit like this forever. Maybe when I do whatever it is that I'm supposed to do on this earth, then the guy who's supposed to be The Guy will come along. And then I'll be settled. But, then, will I be doing all I do just to find The Guy? What happened to doing it because it was right or doing it because it was for me? I think too much. I think too much. I think too much and go nowhere."

You're done thinking like that until you're not done thinking like that, and sometimes a stupid Don Henley song will set you off for a moment, even though you never have liked Don Henley.

At the same time, I felt like the whole thing was funny, for it was just a song in the background, scoring the scene. My situation hadn't changed at all and didn't have to change. It didn't have to be mood music, so, adjusting, I didn't let myself be too lonely. I left myself alone, though. I reminded myself that I'd chosen to be alone, and I reminded myself why. The song ended, and another one came on that had nothing to do with love or loneliness or despair. So I smirked. And my mashed potatoes were really good, so I gave them my attention until they were gone.

On the way back to my car, I couldn't do it by myself. I had to call a friend and tell her about it, about the song, about the atmosphere of the restaurant. I had to remind myself that I have people in my life, just not in that moment. I had to remind myself that I'd gotten an invitation that night, an invitation that I didn't use. I had to tell her and remind myself that I just wanted to relax and think for myself. I'm good at being alone. I just wanted the steak.

I went to the multiplex, picked something off the list of movies I want to see and sat where I could have an entire row to myself. I sat in the center of the row and looked to the screen, losing myself in it for some hours.

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